Poverty made worse by a pandemic is fueling the increase in online sexual abuse and exploitation of children or OSEAC, PLDT-Smart officials said in an online forum with journalists yesterday. The forum was held in time for today’s global celebration of Safer Internet Day.
“With schools shut, the children have become dependent on the Internet, which in turn have also put them at a higher risk of being targeted by offenders,” said Catherine Yap-Yang, First Vice President and Group Head, Corporate Communications of PLDT-Smart.
The problem, which escalated with the start of the pandemic, can only be solved through a “whole-of-nation” approach, said Angel T. Redoble, First Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer of PLDT Group, ePLDT Group, and Smart.
Increase in cases
In 2020, with the start of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Department of Justice reported a 264 percent increase in reported cases of online sexual abuse of children, Yang said.
She said the International Justice Mission identified the Philippines as the largest source of child pornography in a report published in May 2020. The group identified as the root cause “endemic poverty.”
With the rapid increase in cases, PLDT-Smart is ramping up capabilities in fighting OSEAC along with other threats to its customers, both enterprise and residential. Redoble said the company has made substantial investments in capital outlay and operating expenses to fight these threats.
The company has already blocked more than 3,000 domains linked to online sexual abuse. Redoble said, however, that the capability they built to block access to these sites “addresses not even 50% or even 60% of the problem.” He said they have put in place technology and processes that will be able to block illegal content uploaded to legitimate websites such as YouTube.
Block specific content
“It’s very easy for us to block a website dedicated to child porn materials because we already have the technology that can do that. The difference is when the content or the object is uploaded or stored in a legitimate website, it is not possible for us to block that domain because it’s a legitimate domain. Otherwise, we’d be accused of denial of service. If a child porn material is uploaded to YouTube, we cannot block YouTube because it is a legitimate website,” Redoble said.
“What we need to do there is block the content but not block the whole domain. We can limit the blocking to people who are trying to access or view the content or object. That’s the difference now. We can only do that if we have the proper process and the proper combination of technology,” he said.
Redoble and Ace Acedillo, First Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer of PLDT Group, ePLDT Group, and Smart, said the capabilities to fight digital threats will be increased as they partner with more organizations and increase their database of objectionable and illegal sites and content to improve their detection and deterrence.
Harmonize conflicting provisions of laws
The telco officials also raised the need for the country to strengthen as well as resolve conflicting provisions of laws that deal with fighting child abuse and cybercrime.
Acedillo said the hands of telcos and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) are tied in dealing with things such as OSEAC materials. He cited as example the absence of a “Good Samaritan” provision in our laws, unlike in the United States. He said such provisions would allow telcos to block objectionable content, based on certain parameters, and still be protected from lawsuits.
Acedillo, who is also the president of the Philippine Institute of Cyber Security Professionals, said he has a 3-pronged approach to increase the country’s capability to fight threats such as online sexual exploitation of children. These include: 1) strengthen laws and policies by making experts available to legislative and policy-making bodies, 2) expand the base of competent cyber security professionals through trainings and capacity-building, and 3) raise awareness on the need to ensure a more secure cyberspace through webinars and materials shared via YouTube and Facebook.